People suffering from Alzheimer's disease may benefit from regular exercise in terms of lowering the levels of dementia and memory loss, according to new research presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) in Washington, DC.

A new clinical study performed by researchers from Denmark suggests that physical exercise can provide patients with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementias with various health benefits that could help improve the quality of their lives and extend their independence.

Earlier studies have presented evidence that regular exercise can lower the risk of suffering cognitive decline and even lower the risk of several mental impairments, such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Some studies have also pointed to an improvement of cognition in healthy older people as a result of physical activity.

For a long time, it remained largely unknown for scientists whether regular physical activity among Alzheimer's patients could help improve symptoms of the disease, or if it could provide them with a positive impact regarding their brain's physical changes as a result of the disease.

The study presented at the AAIC offered findings that show the benefits of physical activity to people who already have Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers at the Danish Dementia Research Center (DDRC) in Copenhagen provided the results of their Danish ADEX Study, which featured a large, controlled study of the benefits of high and moderate intensity workout for Danish people diagnosed with mild to moderate forms of Alzheimer's.

In their study, 200 Alzheimer's patients, between 50 to 90 years old, were assigned randomly to either a supervised program of aerobic exercise or a to a control group.

The exercise program featured thrice-a-week 60-minute sessions for 16 weeks and monitored by experienced physiotherapists. The control group, on the other hand, featured a standard program with no additional exercise involved.

After undergoing a four-week adaptive exercise regimen, participants in the exercise group were asked to perform aerobic exercise at a set intensity of 70 to 80 percent of the maximum heart rate for the remainder of the program.

By the end of the study, the researchers discovered that participants who were part of the exercise group experienced relatively fewer neuropsychiatric symptoms which include depression, anxiety and irritability, compared to those who belonged to the control group.

While members of the control group were shown to have deteriorated in terms of their psychiatric symptoms, those of the intervention group experienced a slight improvement.

Another finding showed that patients who took part in more than 80 percent of the exercise sessions and were able to raise their regular heart rate to beyond 70 percent of their maximum rate experienced improvements on their attention and mental speed.

Those who participated in the physical activity program became more physically fit and improved their physical function and ability to perform dual tasks. They also showed an improvement in their self-efficacy.

DDRC researcher Dr. Steen Hasselbalch said that symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, such as depression, anxiety and irritability, have been the cause of significant distress for patients and their caregivers.

He explained that while their findings have yet to be verified in larger and more diverse study groups, the beneficial impact of physical activity shown in the research could become an effective combination or compliment with anti-dementia medication.

Photo: Ilya | Flickr 

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